Sexual Assault is any kind of sexual act which breaks a person's trust and/or sense of security and is sexual in nature. The term "sexual violence" includes: rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, date and acquaintance rape, marital or partner rape, sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, and voyeurism. Sexual assaults are acts of violence where sex is used as a weapon. Assaults are motivated primarily out of anger and/or a need to feel powerful by controlling, dominating, or humiliating the victim. Victims/survivors are forced or manipulated to participate in unwanted sexual activity. Offenders are responsible for their assaults, individuals do not cause their assaults and are not to blame.
Sexual assaults are vastly underreported and sexually assaultive behaviors are widely accepted in our society. It is estimated that less than 40% of victims report their assaults to police.
- 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18.
- 80% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 30.
- Every 2 minutes in the United States someone is sexually assaulted.
- About 78% of victims are sexually assaulted by someone known to them.
- Approximately 38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.
- Sexual assault crosses all boundaries of class, race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, ability; there is no group that is not vulnerable to sexual abuse.
Frequently Asked Questions
I'm scared of the perpetrator. When I make the report, will he/she be arrested immediately? Each law enforcement agency decides when to arrest the perpetrator. Many will investigate the crime before arresting the perpetrator, and sometimes there is not an arrest made. Victims concerned about their safety can file a restraining order and do safety planning, which VIP can help with.
Will I have to testify at trial? In many sexual assault cases, one of the best pieces of evidence is the victim’s testimony. Victims should be prepared to testify if their case goes to trial. However, if a case is settled in a plea bargain, victims won’t have to testify. Cases involving child victims are handled differently, but even a child victim can be called to testify at trial.
Will I have to see the defendant? If the case goes to trial, it is very likely that the victim will see the defendant because he/she has the constitutional right to be present at trial. The Kewaunee County Courthouse is structured to ensure that the victim has as little contact with the defendant as possible and arrangements can be made to keep the victim as comfortable possible.
How long will it take before my case goes to trial? Investigations can vary in time from hours to weeks and sometimes more. Pre-trial proceedings can also take time. If a trial does occur, it would not be uncommon for it to take place anywhere from 9 months to a year after the report, and sometimes it can take place even two years or more after the assault. An advocate can provide support throughout the entire process and even after the court proceedings are completed.
Has your child been assaulted?
If your child has been assaulted and you are informed within four days, attempt to have them avoid behaviors such as bathing, brushing teeth, eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, etc. in order to preserve evidence collected by a medical exam. Keep anything that may be evidence; bedding, towels, clothing, etc. Even if it has been longer than four days, you still may want to schedule an exam to check for injuries or infections. Victims and parents have the right to have an advocate present during exams. An advocate will be available to you at the hospital. Our advocates listen, offer support, and accompany you as you move through the medical process. The advocate will provide information for you to make informed choices.
Possible reactions to a disclosure
There is no “right” reaction to hearing that your child has been abused. You may experience a wide range of reactions and feelings that may impact different aspects of your life. Some common reactions from parents include:
- Shock. If you had no idea that the harm was occurring, you may be very surprised to hear what has happened.
- Anger. You may feel angry at the abuser for hurting your child or even frustrated with your child for not telling you. It is also possible to feel angry at your child for disclosing the abuse. It is not easy news to hear, but it is important to remember it is not your child’s fault.
- Sadness. You may feel sad for your child, for your family, or for yourself. When a child discloses sexual abuse, it will cause changes in your life. It is okay to be upset over the changes in your life that may result from this disclosure.
- Anxiety. You might be anxious about responding in the “right” way to your child or navigating the other relationships in your life, especially if you have a relationship with the abuser.
- Fear. You may be afraid that the abuser will find a way to harm your child again. You may be concerned about taking care of your family on your own. It is important to find a way to manage your feelings, so you can focus on creating a safe environment for your child that is free from harm, judgment, and blame.
When a child discloses sexual abuse it is important to respond in a way that is supportive. Please consider the following responses:
- “I believe you.” Believe what your child has told you. Very few sexual assaults have been found to be reported falsely.
- “I am so glad you told me.” “You did the right thing by telling someone.” Reassure them that they did the right thing by sharing the experience, not keeping it a secret, and getting help.
- “It was not your fault.” Let them know it is not their fault. Only the person that harmed your child is at fault.
- “Sexual assault is against the law.” Call the police (911) and/or call the Kewaunee County Child Protective Services Unit at 920-388-3777 to report the sexual assault.
- “I am so sorry that this happened.” “We will get through this.” Comfort your child and console them about what has happened to them.
- “I do not know the answer, but I will try to find it for you.” Provide the most accurate information for your child during this process.
- “I will do my best to protect you.” Take steps to protect your child and to ensure your child’s safety, as well as your own, are met.
What if the perpetrator is part of my family?Finding out that your child was hurt by someone you know and trust can present some additional challenges as a parent. You may be faced with a range of emotions specific to this situation that others can’t relate to. No one has the right to invalidate the way you feel, but it is important to find a way to manage these emotions in order to prioritize the safety of your child. You can reach out to an advocate to talk with and process through what is happening. Some experiences of non-offending parents may include:
- Guilt that you didn’t know the abuse was occurring
- Still having feelings for the person who hurt your child
- Losing faith in your judgment or abilities as a parent
- Anger towards the perpetrator for hurting your child and betraying your trust
- Anger towards the child for disrupting your family
- Sense of loss for the family member who hurt your child as you begin to cut ties
- Practical fears about finances and day-to-day life that may change when the family member who caused harm is removed from the family circle
- Conflict about how to provide support to the child who was harmed while still trying to protect or support the offending family member
Child sexual abuse isn’t always easy to spot. The perpetrator could be someone you’ve known a long time or trust, which may make it even harder to notice. Consider the following warning signs:
Difficulty walking or sitting
Bloody, torn, or stained underclothes
Bleeding, bruises, or swelling in genital area
Pain, itching, or burning in genital area
Frequent urinary or yeast infections
Shrinks away or seems threatened by physical contact
Exhibits signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
Expresses suicidal thoughts, especially in adolescents
Has trouble in school, such as absences or drops in grades
Changes in hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively
Returns to regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking
Runs away from home or school
Overly protective and concerned for siblings, or assumes a caretaker role
Nightmares or bed-wetting
Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors
Teach Children Protective Behaviors
- Teach your child about boundaries. Let your child know that no one has the right to touch them or make them feel uncomfortable — this includes hugs from grandparents or even tickling from mom or dad.
- It is important to let your child know that their body is their own. Just as importantly, remind your child that they do not have the right to touch someone else if that person does not want to be touched. If someone else asks your child to touch their private parts, this is never ok.
- Teach your child how to talk about their bodies. From an early age, teach your child the names of their body parts. Teaching a child these words gives them the ability to communicate to you that something is wrong.
- Some parts of the body are private. Let children know that other people shouldn’t touch or look at them. Always be present when a healthcare professional has to examine these parts of the body.
- Let them know they won’t get in trouble. Many perpetrators use secret-keeping or threats as a way of keeping children quiet about abuse. Remind your child frequently that they will not get in trouble for talking to you, no matter what they need to say. If they see someone touching another child, they shouldn’t keep this secret either.
For Family and FriendsWhen someone you care about tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted or abused, it can be a lot to handle. A supportive reaction can make all the difference, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy. Encouraging words and phrases can avoid judgment and show support for the survivor. Consider these phrases:
- “I’m sorry this happened.” Acknowledge that the experience has affected their life. Phrases like “This must be really tough for you,” and, “I’m so glad you are sharing this with me,” help to communicate empathy.
- “It’s not your fault.” Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind the survivor, maybe even more than once, that they are not to blame.
- “I don’t blame you.” No one ever deserves to be sexually assaulted, abused or harassed. It doesn't matter what they wore, how many times they had sex before, whether they were walking alone at night, whether they got drunk, if they were married, or whether they went up to the perpetrator's room. Even if the survivor feels responsible, say clearly and caringly that being sexually assaulted wasn't their fault.
- “I believe you.” It can be extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed, concerned that they won’t be believed, or worried they’ll be blamed.
- “You are not alone.” Remind the survivor that you are there for them and willing to listen to their story. Remind them there are other people in their life who care and want to help them heal.
- “Are you open to seeking medical attention?” The survivor might need medical attention, even if the event happened a while ago. You can support the survivor by offering to accompany them or find more information. It’s okay to ask directly, “Are you open to seeking medical care?”
- “You can trust me.” If a survivor opens up to you, it means they trust you. Reassure them that you can be trusted and will respect their privacy. Always ask the survivor before you share their story with others. If a minor discloses a situation of sexual abuse, you are required in most situations to report the crime. Let the minor know that you have to tell another adult, and ask them if they’d like to be involved.
- “This doesn’t change how I think of you.” Some survivors are concerned that sharing what happened will change the way other people see them, especially a partner. Reassure the survivor that surviving sexual violence doesn’t change the way you think or feel about them.
- Check in periodically. The event may have happened a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean the pain is gone. Check in with the survivor to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe their story.
- Listen to the survivor’s thoughts and feelings without interjecting your thoughts and feelings into the conversation
- Avoid judgment. Avoid phrases that suggest they’re taking too long to recover such as, “You’ve been acting like this for a while now,” or “How much longer will you feel this way?”, or “Move on,” or “Get over it.”
- Remember that the healing process is fluid. Everyone has bad days. Don’t interpret flashbacks, bad days, or silent spells as “setbacks.” It’s all part of the process.
- Learn about sexual assault and the many emotions surrounding such a traumatic event. It can be difficult to watch a survivor struggle with the effects of sexual assault for an extended period of time.
It is important to recognize and address your own reactions to the assault or abuse of a loved one so that you can provide support rather than possibly traumatizing them further. How you react may depend on factors including the nature of the assault, the age of the survivor, and your relationship to them.
You may experience some or all of these feelings:
- Anger (sometimes towards the victim as well as the perpetrator)
- Sleep disturbances
- Guilt or shame
VIP's support groups run throughout the year and vary in structure and content based on client needs and staff availability. Please call 920-487-2111 to speak with an advocate about joining group.
Male SurvivorsMen and boys who have been sexually assaulted or abused may have many of the same feelings and reactions as other survivors of sexual assault, but they may also face some additional challenges because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity. If something happened to you, know that you are not alone.
- Anxiety, depression, fearfulness, or post-traumatic stress disorder
- Concerns or questions about sexual orientation
- Sense of blame or shame over not being able to stop the assault or abuse, especially if you experienced an erection or ejaculation
- Feeling on-edge, being unable to relax, and having difficulty sleeping
- Feeling like "less of a man" or that you no longer have control over your own body
- Avoiding people or places that are related to the assault or abuse
- Withdrawal from relationships or friendships and an increased sense of isolation
Myths and Facts
FACT: Sexual assault is an act of control and aggression. It is less motivated by the desire for sex and more motivated by the need to exert power and control over another human being.
MYTH: Rapists can be easily identified by their appearance and behavior.
FACT: The stereotypical image of the rapist is that he is "abnormal" and easy to identify. The majority of rapists act and appear relatively "normal." Serial “acquaintance rapists” are often extremely charismatic.
MYTH: People are most often sexually assaulted by strangers.
FACT: Usually, people are sexually assaulted by someone they know —someone who has already been identified as safe and non-threatening.
MYTH: Most sexual assaults occur in isolated places.
FACT: Sexual assaults happen anywhere and anytime. The majority of assaults occur in the home of either the victim or the assailant.
MYTH: A rape survivor will be battered, bruised, and hysterical.
FACT: Many rape survivors are not visibly injured. The threat of violence alone is often sufficient enough to cause a someone to submit to the rapist, to protect themselves from physical harm. People react to crisis in different ways. The reaction may range from composure to anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and suicidal feelings.
MYTH: Fighting back provokes a rapist to be violent.
FACT: Most rapists pick out potential victims they believe may be good targets without a fight. They actually may even test them nonverbally or verbally before determining whether or not to attack. Recent studies of rape avoidance behavior have shown that the more options a person knows, the more psychologically ready she is to resist. Both verbal and physical resistance may actually lessen the severity of injury in some instances. The most important thing to remember is that no one can tell another person what is right or wrong in a dangerous situation. Only s/he knows her/his own abilities, can assess the assailant's behavior, and can determine what the possibilities are. Knowing some options may prevent feeling paralyzed by fear and may also help the survivor understand that submission is also a viable form of self-protection.
MYTH: If someone doesn’t fight off her or his perpetrator, then it is not really rape.
FACT: Some studies have shown that victims who fought back were more likely to be seriously injured by their attacker. This threat of heightened physical violence may make it safer for someone to not fight back. This does not mean the sex is consensual.
MYTH: People lie about rape as an act of revenge or guilt.
FACT: A justice of the New York State Supreme Court has said, "False rape charges are not frequently made; only about 2% of all rape and related sex charges are determined to be false—the same as other felonies." FBI statistics support this as well. False claims of auto theft are reported more frequently than those of rape.
MYTH: Men can't be sexually assaulted.
FACT: Men are sexually assaulted. Between one in six and one in ten males are sexually assaulted. A majority of male survivors were assaulted when they were children or teenagers, yet adult men can be assaulted as well. Any man can be sexually assaulted regardless of size, strength, sexual orientation, or appearance.
MYTH: Only gay men sexually assault other men.
FACT: Most men who sexually assault other men identify themselves as heterosexual. This fact helps to highlight another reality—that sexual assault is about violence, anger, and control over another person, not lust or sexual attraction.
MYTH: Men cannot be sexually assaulted by women.
FACT: Although the majority of perpetrators are male, men can also be sexually assaulted by women.
MYTH: Erection or ejaculation during a sexual assault means you "really wanted it" or consented to it.
FACT: Erection and ejaculation are physiological responses that may result from mere physical contact or even extreme stress. These responses do not imply that you wanted or enjoyed the assault and do not indicate anything about your sexual orientation. Some rapists are aware how erection and ejaculation can confuse a victim of sexual assault—this motivates them to manipulate their victims to the point of erection or ejaculation to increase their feelings of control and to discourage reporting of the crime.
MYTH: The victim must have “asked for it” by being seductive, careless, drunk, high, etc.
FACT: No one asks to be abused, injured, or humiliated. This line of thought blames the victim for what happened instead of the perpetrator who chose to commit the crime. Individuals of all ages, all genders, and all walks of life, have been targets of sexual assault.
MYTH: If they wouldn’t have been drinking, they wouldn’t have been sexually assaulted.
FACT: Alcohol is a weapon that some perpetrators use to control their victim and render them helpless. As part of their plan, an assailant may encourage the victim to use alcohol, or identify an individual who is already drunk. Alcohol is not a cause of rape; it is only one of many tools that perpetrators use.
MYTH: When women say no, they really mean yes.
FACT: Only yes means yes! When someone says yes, s/he is explicitly giving consent. Silence does not equal consent. It is the responsibility of both parties involved in sexual activity to gain and give consent at each and every level. If you are ever unclear about your partner’s wishes, ask for clarification. If your partner says no or seems unsure, respect that person and her/his wishes.